Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:
Animorphs Chronicles: The Andalite Chronicles
The Animorphs series was written by K.A. Applegate and ran from 1996 to 2001, consisting of fifty-four books and a further ten spin-off stories and specials. This week, I’m going to be focusing on books twenty to twenty-two – The Discovery, The Threat and The Solution – which are collectively known by fans as The David Trilogy. As always, this is a retrospective rather than a true review, so there may be spoilers.
The Animorphs believed that all trace of Elfangor was vaporised along with his ship. Imagine Marco’s surprise when he sees a boy at school showing off the Escafil Device – the blue box which gave them their morphing powers. The boy, named David, has no idea what the object is but realises that it’s valuable. He tells Marco that he’s put it up for sale online and already had interest. Marco knows that this is not a good thing. The only ones who would be interested in such an object have to be Controllers.
The Animorphs rush to David’s house to try and claim the Escafil Device for themselves and wind up inadvertently dragging David into their war. With his home destroyed and his parents taken by the Yeerks, they are left with two choices. Either they leave him to the mercy of Visser Three or they allow him to join them, sharing the morphing technology. Although Marco and Ax are wary, the Animorphs decide to take the risk and allow David to join their ranks.
Yet David has joined the team a bad time. A summit is taking place and the Animorphs learn that one of the world leaders attending is already a Controller. It will be the perfect chance for Visser Three to infest the rest. It’s a serious mission and the Animorphs soon realise that they may have made a mistake in trusting a stranger. David is unpredictable and cowardly, and would do anything to save his own skin. Even if it meant turning his new allies over to the Yeerks…
I don’t know what it is about the introduction of new characters that fills me with such dread. In television shows, it’s usually what writers do to try and respark public interest when ratings begin to drop. Like Dawn in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the new character is supposed to spice up story-lines, give younger viewers a perky preteen to relate to, or create new tension in the tried-and-tested character relationships.
David is the first new character to be added to team since Ax was introduced in The Message and, naturally, this made me incredibly nervous. If, like me, you view the additional of new characters as being a hairs breadth away from shark jumping, please rest assured. While The David Trilogy has polarised fans, David’s tenure as an Animorph does not last long. In fact, following its conclusion, I doubt we’ll be seeing David again for a good long time.
On the whole, The David Trilogy starts off on a somewhat mediocre note but does drastically improve as the story goes on. The first two novels are primarily build up. The Discovery is slow to start but gradually picks up pace in the second act, once David has been given his morphing power. The plot is essentially two fold. While it may seem that the summit is the primary plot-line at first, this really only serves as a vessel to enable the reader to see David’s increasing untrustworthiness. Once David reveals himself to be an utter douche-bag, this plot is resolved very quickly to make way for the ultimate showdown with the Animorphs’ newest enemy.
For me, this was a bit of a disappointment. The summit was heavily foreshadowed to be the Animorphs’ most important and dangerous mission to date. Not only do they have to infiltrate an event that’s protected by the secret services for five different countries, but they also do not know which world leader is a Controller. It’s like a huge game of Secret Hitler. They need to defend the innocent humans while not being caught by the traitor.
Yet it never comes to this. After two failed attempts at sneaking into the Summit (one involving an elaborate trap set by Visser Three to ensnare them), the Animorphs ultimately “save” the day by morphing into rhinos and elephants and trashing the place. That’s it. Somehow, the threat of the situation just evaporates. The infiltration of the Yeerk Pool in The Underground had higher stakes than this mission did.
The series’s usual narrative quirks are also even more irritating over this trilogy. Firstly, Applegate gives her usual exposition throughout each of these novels, so we’re treated to three lots of explanations about how Tom and Marco’s mother are Controllers, and how Ax is dangerous around food. I’ve questioned many times now who picks up a series twenty novels in to require this blurb, but here it’s a stage worse. Who on earth picks up a series twenty books in and half-way through a trilogy? The mind boggles. The Discovery and The Threat also both end on very abrupt cliffhangers, so you really need to read all three books back to back to get any sense of completeness.
Yet the David side of the story is really compelling. I found him to be an fascinating character. The initial impression you get of David is that he’s a bit of a jerk. He’s a cross between Marco and Rachel – sharp and calculating, but also possessing more than a bit of a bloodlust. While Marco’s disliking of him is initially unfair (he doesn’t seem to trust the kind of boy who would have a pet snake), little things David does become increasingly sinister. Like when he “loses control” of his golden eagle morph to kill a crow. Or his fixation on who would win in a fight between his lion morph and Jake’s tiger.
David’s behaviour in the story is increasingly erratic, coming to a surprisingly dark peak at the climax of The Threat when he reveals that he would never harm a human but has no problem with murdering the Animorphs while in their animal forms. Although it was clear that David could be nasty, it was at this point that the reader saw what he was truly capable of. Morphing for David is like the Ring of Gyges – he loses all sense of morality when he realises that he has the power to get away with everything. When David finally turns on the Animorphs, I actually found him to be more frightening than Visser Three. The Visser is a powerful alien soldier. David is a human teen, just the same as the rest of the Animorphs. He has the same strengths and weaknesses as they do, as well as knowledge of their true identities, which makes him far more dangerous.
David’s ultimate fate in the story is the perfect solution. It’s bleak and terrifying, but it addresses the problems that he causes in a very satisfying (and cathartic) manner. The question about whether David should be allowed to just walk away is very much like the one debated in the climax of The Warning but I think that Applegate handled it far better this time around. I felt deeply unsettled when Jake allowed the killer to escape in The Warning. With David, the Animorphs manage to find a control method that removes David as a threat without killing him. It’s a happier ending than David really deserved, yet has a deep psychological impact on the entire team. Surprisingly, the one most effected this time is Rachel.
The Solution has actually been one of my favourite novels to date as it is the point in which Rachel is forced to see herself the way that her friends do. Over the series, Rachel has become increasingly bloodthirsty and made some really questionable decisions. When Jake considers killing David in The Solution, the first person he calls upon is Rachel. The realisation that the other Animorphs view her as being thuggish comes as somewhat of a shock to her, leading to a particularly powerful argument between her and Jake:
“I worry about you, Rachel. More than any of the others except Tobias. I feel like this war is to you like booze is to an alcoholic. Like I don’t know what will happen to you if it all ends someday.”
While it’s been clear to the reader for a while that all of the Animorphs are being changed by the war, this is the first time that any of the characters have truly expressed this openly. Even Cassie struggled to put her feelings to words in The Departure. It’s passages like this that help to remind the reader how seriously Applegate takes the subject of child soldiers and the way that war destroys people. And I’m very interested to see how the characters will develop over the rest of the series.
All in all, The David Trilogy wasn’t fantastic but it’s worth sticking with to get to The Solution. While the early part of the trilogy is slow going, the finale is really tense and has great character development for Rachel. I’m really curious to see where this will head next, but next time we’ll be taking a look at another prequel story in The Hork-Bajir Chronicles.
These three novels are currently out of print. If you’d like to read them, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.